Utah basketball got a pair of needed home victories before going on the road

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Utah forward Mikael Jantunen (20) celebrates as Washington forward RaeQuan Battle (21) looks on at the end of their NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Utah won 67-66.

Larry Krystkowiak has talked a lot about the ebbs and flows of a season.

The University of Utah will win, it will lose. It’ll play well for stretches, it’ll play poorly for stretches. The Utes had a five-game winning streak, which included Quadrant 1 wins over BYU and Kentucky. They recently had a four-game losing streak, which included getting routed by some of the Pac-12’s elite.

Take all of that into account, then consider the Utes are the third-youngest team in the country, per KenPom.com. Any rotation player with any experience has only been around for a season-and-a-half, and everyone else playing meaningful minutes is a freshman going through these things for the first time.

Utah completed a sweep of the Washington schools thanks to a 76-64 win over Washington State on Saturday night at the Huntsman Center. The Utes have won a couple in a row now after the four-game losing streak. Krystkowiak’s postgame message was clear. Stay the course.

“Whether we win or lose, we’ve always talked about, you’re never as good as you think you are, and you’re never as bad as you think you are,” said Krystkowiak, whose team moved from last in the Pac-12 to eighth with the two wins, one of eight teams within two games of league-leading Stanford. “I knew we were a better team than losing four games in a row. That’s some tough competition when you head out on the road, and our guys had a really good week of practice. Our guys stayed in it and the same goes for this week.”

Utah had a ton of trouble Thursday night against Washington’s zone. The Utes’ halfcourt offense looked stuck in mud early in Saturday’s win against the Cougars, something Krystkowiak referenced as it pertained to early in the first half, when control was up for grabs.

Conversely, the Utes looked cohesive throughout the Washington State game. They passed the ball, almost to a fault. Timmy Allen continues to be a steady presence, showing leadership characteristics maybe beyond his age and experience.

Rylan Jones was the hero on Thursday night, and the best player on the floor Saturday night. Mikael Jantunen had 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting. Branden Carlson had a breakout game, specifically on defense, where he had three blocks, altered at least twice that many shots, and looked very capable as a rim protector.

Even Both Gach, mired in a slump going on three weeks, saw some daylight against the Cougars, finishing with five points, four rebounds, and four assists in 26 minutes.

The vibes are positive right now, so what happens next bears watching. Utah will head to Los Angeles this weekend to face USC on Thursday and UCLA on Sunday. The Trojans represent a Quadrant 1 opportunity, so a win there would bolster the Utes’ postseason résumé.

Whatever happens at the Galen Center, the Bruins are a Quadrant 3 team right now, so a loss there would damage the Utes’ resume, which already has Quadrant 3 losses to Coastal Carolina and Tulane.

Utah has five wins combined between Quadrants 1 and 2, but is just 2-5 against Quadrant 1 teams. The Utes still have to play Stanford twice, plus Oregon and Colorado. As of now, those are all Quadrant 1 chances.

The Utes, 12-7 overall and 3-4 in the Pac-12, are just 1-4 in true road games this season.

“You don’t come in feeling like you’ve accomplished anything because we’ve got two really good opponents,” Krystkowiak said. “You can look around this league and know there’s a heck of a lot of competition. My experience is, about the time you think you’ve got things figured out, life jumps up and bites you right in the rump, so we’ll keep grinding.”